The Queen Stage and a long climb to the fiish, a 45 minute uphill effort is beaucoup for early March and should tease out the overall contenders who remain huddled together. If you’ve been watching during the week note the earlier finish time.
Stage 6 Wrap: a big break and the race briefly went off course causing chaos for a moment. The upshot was that one minute Dylan Teuns was at the back of the bunch, the next he and others spotted the correctly-signalled route and followed it and they were effectively up the road. BMC’s Belgian climber was a threat on GC and so once the bunch reformed behind it chased. He sat up and the move was allowed to get away but having been kept in check it couldn’t build up a big lead and so the remnants were caught well before the finish. On the hectic descent towards the key “wall” climb of the day L-L Sanchez punctured and with Sky forcing the pace up ahead there wasn’t time even for a wheel change with a team mate, instead he took Omar Fraile’s bike and managed to keep his overall lead despite riding a bike centimetres too small. The climb was steep and the attacks flew but nobody got a big gap.
On the descent Wout Poels crashed out, it’s bad for him and changes Sky’s tactics significantly because moments before he and Sergio Henao were attacking and proving hard to contain, Poels went from the prime pick for the overall to out with a broken collarbone and talk of a Giro-Tour double in doubt.
Rudy Molard attacked over the last rise in the road and got a gap. He’s not the rider everyone had to shut down but a good rider all the same who often works for others. He lives nearby and had targeted the stage, “riding the course ten times” as he told TV. Apparently audiences in France are soaring and with four home stage wins so far you can see why.
The Route: 175km inland. It’s all about the final climb but there’s plenty of climbing along the way. The race leaves Nice and heads up the Var valley before turning off at Gilette. The Côte de la Sainte-Baume is one of those roadbook names rather for the actual Col du Vé Gautier. It’s never too hard but adds vertical gain before the race drops back down to the Var valley via the feedzone in La Penne and the hairpins of the Col Saint-Raphaël.
The Finish: a 16km climb to a ski station, La Colmiane atop the Col Saint-Martin. 6.2% is not much but it’s still selective and crucially it’s often steeper, the mid-way kilometre of 3.5% has a flat part and then a steep part so as ever beware of averages. Overall it’s a steady climb and a wide road, not the sort of thing to drive a team bus up but cars can go up fast. Never mind vehicles, the point is this is a fast climb and one where being sat on a wheel means saving energy, especially for the second half where the gradient eases a touch and this suits a group more than a lone rider. It kicks up a touch for the finish.
The Contenders: this was going to be the stage were Team Sky deploy their mountain train and drill the pace to tire rivals from the start of the climb but with Wout Poels out they line up for Sergio Henao. He’s a punchy rider but didn’t look too strong yesterday despite terrain that suited him.
Bahrain-Merida can play the 1-2 instead with the Izagirre brothers. They’re both in good form. Another team with options is Mitchelton-Scott and Esteban Chaves was smiling moments after a scary crash into Sisteron and the long climb suits him while Simon Yates should be close too.
Dan Martin (UAE Emirates) not been visible in this race but it’s not his fault, apparently he had a mechanical yesterday. The discretion means he’s not the first pick but given he’s lost time on GC nobody has to mark him any more and he’s one of the best climbers in the race.
Tim Wellens (Lotto-Soudal) is a GC threat and he’s proved capable of hanging with the best in the mountains in the Ruta Del Sol but this is a long climb and so feels like a new test for him.
Last year Julian Alaphilippe started the equivalent stage in yellow and cracked on the Col de la Couillole. Today’s climb is a touch easier for him and the rivals less fierce so this will be a good test for him and his rivals will look to eliminate him because he’ll be hard to handle tomorrow if he’s still in contention overall.
Marc Soler (Movistar) has been in all the right moves and had a great time trial but been hard to spot on TV, despite the white jersey. He’s due a big win and this climb looks perfect. Sam Oomen (Team Sunweb) is another rider to watch, a climber but he’s powerful for these long ascents. Lastly Dylan Teuns (BMC Racing) has made a name for himself on short climbs but as an amateur excelled in the high mountains and this ascent suits him but sitting 11th overall will he try to win the stage with a risky attack or climb up a couple of places overall.
|Esteban Chaves, Dan Martin|
|Sergio Henao, Izagirre², Simon Yates, Tim Wellens|
|Soler, Alaphilippe, Oomen|
Weather: a mild 12 °C at the start but damp. It’ll be colder inland and a high chance of rain in the mountains and even snow for the ski station finish.
TV: You should find it on the same channel as you watch the Tour de France. It’s on Eurosport and you can rely on Cyclingfans and steephill.tv for links to feeds and streams. It’s earlier than the weekday stages with the finish forecast for 2.50pm CET. It’s perfect timing as you can switch over to Tirreno-Adriatico where the Sassotetto summit finish is forecast for 4.15pm CET.